CFP: The Body Questions, Celebrating Flamenco’s Tangled Roots

This is a good time
This is the best time
This is the only time to come together
Fractious
Kicking
Spilling
Burly
Whirling
Raucous
Messy

Free

Exploding like the seeds of a natural disorder.[1]

—June Jordan

Call for Papers

The Body Questions: Celebrating Flamenco’s Tangled Roots

The Foundation for Iberian Music at The Barry S. Brooks Center for Music Research and Documentation at the CUNY Graduate Center is hosting an international symposium on nonsense, cacophony, tumult, queerness, race, and the dancing body in New York on October 16, 2018.  Selected conference papers will be published as an anthology.

From pre-modern Christmas pageants all the way through to Jordan Peele’s “sunken place”—a place where, as Simone de Beauvoir has written, the subjectivity of “sovereign and unique” beings “is crushed by the dark weight of other things,” Whiteness and Blackness have been conjoined in a series of negative correlations.[2] Purity and pollution, harmony and dissonance, over and under, order and disorder, Christian epiphany and damning confusion have limned the edge distinguishing freedom and personhood from enslavement and abjection. Yet in these paradigmatic dyads one term always implies—indeed, defines—the other; in these relations there is never erasure, but rather evidence of white culture’s perverse fascination—envy, even—with the sonorous, dislocated, inciting, and infinitely suggestive products of black culture.[3] The impolite music and dance of cacophony, dissonance, and disorder vibrate with a fugitive, turbulent Otherness, hinting at the specters of alternate social, spiritual, and aesthetic orders. “What does it mean,” Fred Moten asks in The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (2013), “to call for disorder in the sovereign’s ‘native tongue?’”[4] We must attend to cacophony, Moten writes; we must “inhabit and maybe even cultivate…[the] place which shows up here and now, in the sovereign’s space and time, as absence, darkness, death, things which are not.“[5]

Stuart Hall has theorized diaspora as a “radical homelessness,” an expression of an “ethics of the self…attuned to the edges.”[6]  Flamencos, whose embodied and minstrelized Blackness is figured by the Spanish Roma, have always known this statelessness, have always adhered to this code. How, then, can flamenco illuminate theories of race and identity in performance? And, conversely, how can the theoretical tools developed in other fields help us better understand flamenco? How may we consider flamenco’s purposefully duplicitous roar, its nonsense, and its irony, in light not only of critical race theory but also of other approaches, such as ethics, or theories of gender, or of sound? And, regarding the purposeful ambiguity of calling for disorder in the sovereign’s tongue, why are some of the great theorists, such as June Jordan, and Fred Moten, poets? How can black poetics help us read, and explain to others, flamenco’s life blood, its verses? As VK Preston has wondered, when cultural wealth—verse, rhythm, or gesture, for example—is extracted, smelted, and rendered into the likeness of the oppressor, what of its animating spirit, what of its soul remains?[7] And, speaking of dancing in shackles, why do the footwork steps used in early modern Spanish depictions of ruffians dancing under the lash bear such an uncanny resemblance to the shuffle steps of African American dances?[8] That is to say, how can we posit, and argue for, genealogical relationships across the vast expanses of the African diaspora? And how may the codes of flamenco improvisation help us trace these?

We don’t need to be limited to flamenco, and we don’t need to be limited to these questions. We want with this gathering to reach out, find connection, and cross the border into what Jack Halberman calls “The Wild Beyond,” to make “common cause with the brokenness of being”— “a brokenness,” he writes, “that is also blackness.”[9]

Paper presentations will be 20 minutes, with 10 minutes for discussion. Please send a title and a 150 – 200 word abstract to K. Meira Goldberg at BlackAndaluciaConference@gmail.com by August 1, 2018.

See our conference page for full details and performers.


[1] June Jordan, excerpt of “From Sea to Shining Sea,” in June Jordan, Jan H. Levi, and Sara Miles, Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan (Port Townsend, Wash: Copper Canyon Press, 2007 [originally published in Living room – 1985]) 331.

[2] Simone de Beauvoir and Bernard Frechtman, The Ethics of Ambiguity (New York: Philosophical Library, 1949), 7; Wesley Morris, “Jordan Peele’s X-Ray Vision,” The New York Times (December 20, 2017).

[3] Horacio J. Becco, El tema del negro en cantos, bailes y villancicos de los siglos XVI y XVII (Buenos Aires: Ollantay, 1951), 15.

[4] Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study (Wivenhoe; New York; Port Watson: Minor Compositions, 2013), 137.

[5] Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, 137.

[6] Stuart Hall, Kobena Mercer, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The Fateful Triangle: Race, Ethnicity, Nation (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2017), xvi–viii.

[7] VK Preston, “Baroque Relations: Performing Silver and Gold in Daniel Rabel’s ‘Ballets of the Americas,’” in Mark Franko, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Reenactment (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), 285–310.

[8] “Paso de amolar con grillos,” Rodrigo Noveli, Chorégraphie figurativa y demostrativa del arte de danzar en la forma española (MS. Madrid, 1708), digital pdf p. 55; Samuel A. Floyd, Jr., “Ring Shout! Literary Studies, Historical Studies, and Black Music Inquiry,” Black Music Research Journal, vol. 22, Supplement: Best of BMRT (2002): 49–70;

HowcastArtsRec, “How to Shuffle | Club Dancing,” youtube, January 18, 2012 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDnKVoJL188, (accessed June 2, 2018).

[9] Jack Halberstam, “The Wild Beyond: With and For the Undercommons,” in Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, 5.